Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress. Reading, of course, is key in all of these. With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.
Dr. Diane Paravazian, an assistant professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures and president of the Metropolitan New York Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French, writes:
When reflecting on an action, a decision, a challenge or a subject of relevance to a particular moment of my life, I often turn to Michel de Montaigne for he placed great importance on one’s judgment and felt that “our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately.” Considered by many as the inventor of the modern essay, Montaigne lived in a period not unlike our own age of information. There was in his time, the Renaissance, a sudden explosion of information and knowledge, especially from Greek and Roman antiquity, which was made accessible by the invention of the printing press. There were wars, religious divisions, and diseases such as the plague which killed nearly half of the inhabitants of the city of Bordeaux, where Montaigne served as magistrate in the Parliament. At age 38, Montaigne retired from public life and devoted himself to reading, contemplation and writing. He compiled the thoughts of major writers and with each edition of The Essays, gradually added more of his own reflections and experiences, developing them organically into a self-portrait. As Montaigne saw himself as an average specimen of a human being, his self-portrait, he thought, could serve as a study of mankind, the human condition. Indeed, the subjects of his essays cover so many aspects of being human: solitude, sleep, glory, fear, liars, virtue, cruelty, death, sadness, custom, books, repentance, cultural diversity and many others. His famous essays, “Of Friendship,” “Of Cannibals,” “Of the Education of Children,” “Of Coaches,” have a great deal to teach us today. As one of his biographer and translators, Donald Frame, has put it so well, Montaigne’s “greatest attraction for most readers is that the book reveals a man and that the man becomes a friend and often another self.”